After its pandemic-era cancellation in 2020 and a scaled-back version in 2021, the San Diego County Fair is back to mostly normal operations. For some, there’s more to look forward to than just outrageous food and family-friendly festivities.
Artisans were able to showcase their work once more, and North San Diego County was represented throughout the competitions.
Though entries in the Home Made competition were about a third less than normal, Elena Liu, Home Made supervisor, says, “People are super excited to be back.”
Liu credits their new location at the Theme Exhibit hall for a boost in visibility as well.
“Now, we are in the exhibit hall where vendors are, on the west end,” she says. “People are finding us like crazy — it’s been really busy.”
“(Home Made) really is the heart of the fair,” she adds. “It’s the quilts and cookies and pies and collections. It’s all the handmade, self-curated things.”
This year, adult and youth entries were shown together.
“That has changed the dynamic,” she says. “It’s been so well received, and we love having the kids there.”
Encinitas resident Lucia Bailey has been a longtime participant in the fair, having won best of show in previous years for her sewn items. This year, she submitted several entries to the quilting and comforters division, resulting in two third-place awards and two honorable mentions.
“I enjoyed putting them in,” she says. “I’m doing my bit for the art of it — it’s also great to see what other people are doing.”
Many former contestants, including Bailey, were informed that the competition was back on and encouraged to enter by organizers.
The former sewing teacher has dedicated a sizable portion of her triple-wide mobile home to her craft. Along with personal projects, Bailey has created memory bears for Hospice of the North Coast, quilts for Rady Children’s Hospital to sell and raise funds, and quilts for children of active-duty military parents overseas.
“There’s a lot of things that you can do with quilting that are fun and also rewarding,” she affirms.
Alexa Peña lives in Chula Vista but works in and spends a lot of time in Carlsbad. She has been creating for many years, and 2019 marked the first year she submitted an entry to the fair as an adult.
Having participated previously as a student, she says, “I was curious if there was a way to do that when you’re not in high school.”
This year, she won first place in the needlework division, counted cross-stitch picture class. Her piece represents actor Joaquin Phoenix in his role of the Joker in the 2019 film of the same name.
“That was my first portrait,” she says. “(It took) roughly around 300 hours. I had to find an image, edit the image and punch it into the pattern maker — a huge chunk of time was spent making the pattern itself.”
She has been needlepointing for some time, but this was her first attempt at making and using her own pattern.
“It felt incredibly fantastic (to win),” she says. “I was so nervous because needlepoint is just a hobby; I wasn’t expecting to win anything. I just wanted to put something out there.”
“It was encouraging,” she adds. “Every artist is seeking a way to show their work and what talent they have to the world, so I highly encourage anybody no matter what level you are or what skills you have to submit something into the fair because you never know who is going to appreciate and find joy out of it.”
Diana Torres and her boyfriend, Shayn Mitchell, were both excited to win awards for their costumes.
“We like going to renaissance fairs every year,” Torres explains. “He’s had his red armor for a while now, and I wanted to make something to match him more color-wise.”
Mitchell’s red and black full leather armor set is intricately detailed, featuring a helmet that had to be recreated for the competition after the original was lost after having fallen off the roof of his car while leaving a renaissance fair.
Serving overseas in the military, he wasn’t able to get into the renaissance fair and crafting scene until returning home.
“I picked it up and started putting together some really cheesy costumes, but it’s what I could do at the time,” he says. “Then, I had this weird bug and said I want to make a suit of leather armor.”
After watching YouTube tutorials, he acquired tools and leather and got to work.
His armor garnered first place in the costumes/cosplay division, armor class, best of division, and best of show.
Torres won first place in the costumes/cosplay division in the needlework class for her handmade dress.
“I’ve always had an inclination for things with drawing and painting,” she says. “My mom taught me to sew when I was 12, so I made Halloween costumes. When I met Shayn, I became interested in renaissance fairs. I thought I could extend my Halloween costuming love into another place.”
“This is probably the best thing that I’ve ever sewn,” she adds.
Torres, who works in Del Mar, and Mitchell, who has a studio in Escondido, say that their craft is detailed and time-consuming, but it’s all worth it in the end.
“We both have full-time jobs — it’s a labor of love,” she says.
Whether it’s growing flowers, building tables, cooking sweet treats or crafting other handmade items, there’s a lot of talent in North San Diego County. With the hope that future festivals won’t be interrupted once more, there are plenty of encouraging opportunities to showcase passion projects for years to come.
Charlene Pulsonetti is a local freelance writer.
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